Alpine, Cross-country, Biathlon

Alpine Skiing
    Paralympic & Deaf skiing
    Special Olympics
Cross-country Skiing
    Special Olympics
    Deaf skiing
Attire and Equipment
Wheelchair Skiing

As with all of the Paralympic and Special Olympic sports, athletes compete against athletes of similar ability and are placed in different categories.

Those with visual impairment ski with a guide who will direct using their voice. Standing skiers will use the same type of ski equipment as skiers without impairment. Some will use a single ski or a single pole or no poles, depending upon their impairment.

Those who have no or limited use of their legs will compete using the sit-ski. Alpine skiers use a mono-ski (a seat with a sprung ski attached to the bottom) and hand-held out-riggers (short poles with short skis attached) for balance. Their cross-country brethren will use a sledge with two skis (usually with smooth waxed as opposed to Nordic fish-scale bottoms) and short ski-poles for propulsion.

Skiing is a very demanding yet fun sport to be involved in. It is also a great sport to help keep you fit and healthy. Skiing helps both the upper and lower body, more so the lower body for standing skiers as the legs do most of the work. For standing skiers, the body is in a slight crouch, which causes a strain on the leg muscles. With the sport being outdoors, health and fitness will benefit. Heart rates will elevate while walking and carrying the ski poles and more so when skiing down the slope. Skiing is also very good for the psyche. While skiing, endorphins and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream. This helps to elevate the mood and provide a sense of well-being and contentment.

The basic equipment used in skiing is a pair of skis, boots, ski poles, goggles, sunglasses, helmet, ski-pants and a ski jacket or a ski-suit. 

Alpine skiing

Paralympic & Deaf skiing

Both the Paralympics and Deaflympics have the full list of Alpine skiing events for both men and women. These disciplines are Downhill, Super-G, Giant Slalom, Super Combined and Slalom. Paralympic competition in all events is open to all classes of disability. The competitions for the deaf athletes differ from the standard only in that they use flags or lights to start events, instead of audio signals.

The minimum age for the Deaflympics is 16, while for the Paralympics it is 14. For some competitions (NorAm, Asia Cup, Southern Hemisphere cup, IPCAS, National Competitions) the minimum paralympic age for some events may be 12.

For Paralympic competition, alpine races have 3 categories for each gender, Visually Impaired, Standing and Sitting, with further classifications depending upon the level of impairment, as listed in the Paralympic Winter Sport Classifications page.

Downhill: This discipline of skiing involves the highest speed of all, so it carries the highest risk of injury. The downhill course is designed to challenge skiers, including skiing at high speeds, challenging turns, shallow dips, flats and small jumps.

Super-G: This is a speed event. The skis used in the Super-G slalom are 81 inches for men and 79 inches for women.

Giant Slalom: This involves skiing between sets of poles. The skis used in Giant Slalom are shorter than the skis used in both the Super-G and Downhill, but they are longer than the skis used in Slalom.

Super Combined: This event combines downhill and slalom. It consists of a single run of slalom which athletes usually decide to do first before moving onto the shortened downhill run. The winner of the Super Combined is the skier with the fastest aggregate time.

Slalom: The Slalom involves skiing between poles spaced much closer together than in the Giant Slalom, Super-G or Downhill. Placing the poles closer together results in faster and shorter turns.

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Special Olympics

Athletes in every sport and event are grouped by age, gender, and ability. There are no World Records because each athlete, whether in the fastest or the slowest division is valued and recognized equally. In every division, all athletes receive an award, from gold, silver, and bronze medals, to fourth through eighth place ribbons.

10 Meter Walk Event - Beginner: Competitors are timed as they 'walk' 10m (while wearing skis) on a flat surface.

Glide - Beginner: Athletes are timed as they glide down a course that has from 1 to 2 metres vertical drop over a course length of 10 to 15 metres, with a constant slope.

Super Glide - Beginner: Athletes are timed as they glide down a course that has from 5 to 20 metres vertical drop over a course length of 50 to 100 metres, with a constant slope and from 4 to 6 gates.

Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super-G 

Athletes in the Slalom and Giant Slalom will be timed over two runs, while in the Super-G only one run is performed.

    Course Layouts:

Novice Skier

Giant Slalom


Giant Slalom


Giant Slalom

# of Gates

5 to 15
5 to 15
5 to 12

15 to 30
15 to 30
10 to 20

20 to 45
20 to 40
15 to 35

Vertical Drop

15 to 50m
20 to 70m
25 to 70m

30 to 100m
50 to 150m
50 to 200m

60 to 200m
100 to 300m
150 to 350m

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Cross Country skiing

There are two classes of skiing competition for the Winter Games. They are free-style or classical.

Free-style Skiing: This type of skiing was developed in the 1970's. It is a similar technique to speed skating, where the inside of the ski is pushed backwards and outward simultaneously at a 45 degree angle. It is faster than the classic technique. Free-style skiing is done on the section of track without groomed tracks in the snow.

Classic Technique: This is the traditional ski racing technique. Athletes use a diagonal stride in which both skis stay parallel to each other. One classical technique of skiing is done from the sitting position called sit skiing. These skiers are unable to move out of the parallel tracks and the skier propels the sit-ski along with specially adapted poles.


Paralympic Cross Country skiing is one of two Nordic skiing disciplines in the Winter Paralympics. It is an adaption of cross country skiing for athletes with a disability. The first time Paralympic Cross Country skiing appeared was in the 1976 Winter Games in Ornskoldsvik in Sweden.

Paralympic Cross Country skiing has many different styles of event, which include standing, sitting and events for the visually impaired.

Blind skiers follow a guide throughout the entire race to ensure the safety of themselves and others.

If an athlete doesn't have the use of their legs, they have the option of using a sit ski. This is a chair with a pair of skis attached at the bottom and using ski poles for propulsion.

Paralympians can compete in either relay or individual events over distances from 2.5km to 20km. The full list of paralympian events is:

  • standing men: 1200m, 10km and 20 km 
  • sit-ski men: 800m, 10km and 15 km 
  • standing women: 1200m, 5km and 15 km 
  • sit-ski women: 800m, 5km and 12 km 
  • mixed relay (men & women) - 2 * 2.5km classic + 2 * 2.5km free (ie, 10km total)
  • open relay men & women - 2 * 2.5km classic + 2 * 2.5km free (ie, 10km total)

With the relays, each team may consist of 2, 3 or 4 athletes. Because the number of athletes may vary from team to team and their mix of genders may differ, there is a formula for 'levelling the playing field' for each race, as follows:

  • Mixed Relay The combined percentage of each team must be 330 % or less, calculated by summing the individual percentages of the athlete in each leg with reductions of 18 % per leg for female athletes and 12% per leg for sit ski athletes (female sit ski athlete : minus 30%). There must be at least one women taking part.
  • Open Relay The combined percentage of each team must be 370 % or less, calculated by summing the individual percentages of the athlete in each leg with reductions of 18 % per leg for female athletes and 12% per leg for sit ski athletes (female sit ski athlete : minus 30%).

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Special Olympics:

Again, athletes in every sport and event are grouped by age, gender, and ability.

Competition events:

  • 10m Ski Race 
  • 25m Ski Race 
  • 50m Cross Country Skiing Race 
  • 100m Cross Country Skiing Race 
  • 500m Cross Country Skiing Race 
  • 1km Cross Country Skiing Race 
  • 2.5km Cross Country Skiing Race 
  • 5km Cross Country Skiing Race 
  • 7.5km Cross Country Skiing Race 
  • 10km Cross Country Skiing Race 
  • 4x1km Cross Country skiing relay 
  • 4x1km Unified Cross Country Skiing Relay 

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Deaf skiing:

Cross country skiing competitions comprise the following events:


  • Individual Sprint (Freestyle)
  • 15km Mass Start (Classic)
  • 20km Double Pursuit (Classic, Freestyle)
  • 3x10km Relay (1x Freestyle, 2x Classic) (one team only)
  • Team Sprint (Classic) (one team only)


  • Individual Sprint (Freestyle)
  • 10km Mass Start (Classic)
  • 15km Double Pursuit (Classic, Freestyle)
  • 3x5km Relay (1x Freestyle, 2x Classic) (one team only)
  • Team Sprint (Classic) (one team only)

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Only those athletes who can comply with the following points are eligible to take part in IPC biathlon events (the Winter Deaflympics does not currently (2013) run Biathlon events):

The athlete must be physically able to load, aim, and pull the trigger of the rifle on their own. If an athlete is using a private rifle without a magazine, they can be assisted by a designated assistant to load the rifle. The rifle must only be loaded when the athlete is in shooting position.

LW-classes will shoot at mechanical targets. The hit area shall have a diameter of 15mm. The aiming area (black painted spot) shall have a diameter of 35mm The 5 targets shall be placed on a white board at a height of 43cm (+ or - 5cm) from the ground.

B-classes will shoot on targets with a diameter of 28.0 mm. Each hit with the bull’s eye shall be registered:

  1. on a set of lights (for officials, guides, trainers, spectators).
  2. as tone in the athletes’ earphone.

In all competitions in which the shot-penalty is a penalty loop, the competitor must ski the loop once for every missed target immediately after the shooting bout.


The weapons shall be any type of air or CO2 rifle on conventional appearance with a five or one shot clip and in accordance with specifications of the International Union of Shooting’s (U.I.T.) rule.

B-Class shooting systems have to be provided by the Organizing Committee. LW-class athletes are responsible for providing their own rifles.

IPC Nordic STC is authorized to allow the use of own rifles for the B-classes compatible with the organizers shooting systems.

Sight apparatus:

For LW classes, no lenses or telescopes are permitted.

B class Approved systems: 

  • EKO AIMS B – shooting system Salt Lake City Version 2002 
  • EKO AIMS B - shooting system Vancouver Version 2010

In all IPC Biathlon events all rifles have to stay at the shooting range during the competition.

Competition classes:

LW 10-12

LW 2-9

B 1-3

Sit Ski



Competition events

Short competition:

2 shootings

3 loops of course

penalty: 150m loop

Men: course length 2.5 km, total distance 7.5 km

Women: course length 2.0 km, total distance 6.0 km

Middle competition:

Middle competition

4 shootings

5 loops of course

penalty: 150m loop

Men: course length 2.5 km, total distance 12.5 km

Women: course length 2.0 km, total distance 10.0 km

Middle Pursuit competition:

2 day Pursuit

4 shootings

5 loops of course

penalty: 150m loop

Men: course length 2.5 km, total distance 12.5 km

Women: course length 2.0 km, total distance 10.0 km

1 Day Pursuit competition:

Qualification + Final

2 shootings

3 loops of course

penalty: 80m loop

Men & Women - Sit Ski: course length 800m (+/- 200m), total distance 3.0 km

Men & Women - Standing: course length 1200m (+/- 400m), total distance 4.8 km

Long competition:

4 shootings

5 loops of course

penalty: 1 minute

Men: course length 3.0 km, total distance 15.0 km

Women: course length 2.5 km, total distance 12.5 km

When a penalty loop is used, it will be set up immediately after the shooting range. The loop will be an oval trail at least 6m wide and 80m /150m long, and located on a level area.

Shooting Position

LW 2-9 and B 1-3 athletes are required to shoot in the prone position.

LW 10-12 athletes are free to choose between prone and sitting position. In prone positions no supports (such as pads cushions) are allowed. When shooting in sitting position, the surface touched by the elbows may be upholstered with compressible material of a maximum thickness of 2 cm. The surface on which the elbows make contact can not be concave It is not permitted to make a hollow in the contact surface or in the upholstered material.

Shooting Mats

For shooting in both the prone and standing positions, mats must be used. They should be 1.5 m x 1.5 m and 1 to 2 cm thick, and must be made of synthetic or natural fibres with a rough, non-slip surface.

Shooting Aids

The use of a shooting sling is permitted.

Athletes of the classes LW 5/7 and 6/8 are allowed to use a support. The supports will be provided by IPC. Athletes may not use their own support, except for the LW 5/7 class, where a private support may be required due to physical limitation. The athlete is responsible that the rifle touches the support in the marked zone only (balance point +/- 5cm).

Athletes using the rifle support (LW 6/8) must not allow the second arm / hand to touch the rifle and the support (spring) must remain in an upright position (the athlete may not either pull back or push forward).

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Attire and Equipment

Standard skiing equipment will be skis, boots, ski poles, sport goggles (usually tinted), helmet, gloves, identification bib, and appropriate clothing.  Appropriate clothing at a minimum means ski-pants and a waterproof jacket. Some official events mandate that the suits worn be approved beforehand (plumbed - checked for porosity) by the sanctioning authorities.

Alpine skis and Nordic skis (cross country skis) are NOT the same thing. Alpine skis are designed for speed and turning ability, while Nordic skis are longer (to spread the weight better), and use free-heel bindings that attach at the toes of the skier's boots but not at the heels. Nordic skis come in two styles - waxed and non-waxed. The waxed skis have a smooth bottom and need to be waxed to get grip, while the non-waxed have a fish-scale pattern on the bottom and do not need wax. In general, the waxed skis offer better performance. Sit skis will usually have the waxed kind of ski.

Further needs are as follows:

Blind Skiing: blackout goggles, sighted guide

Alpine Wheelchair Skiing: mono-ski, outrigger ski-poles

Cross Country Wheelchair Skiing: sit-ski (with two skis), ski-poles

Biathlon: air or CO2 rifle with a five or one shot clip.

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Buy skiing gear from UK and Ireland.

If you are looking for Books and Accessories for Skiing, you'll find them here.

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Wheelchair Skiing

Sean with his instructor.

If you are not up to or not interested in competition, how about a skiing holiday. Sean is wheelchair-bound, and went on a skiing holiday to Austria where he learned to sit-ski. Sean is pictured on the left. See Sean's ski trip article for the story of his Austrian adventure. Looking for further inspiration ? Check out our video of sit-skiing below.

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